The ADA Effect

            When the Indialantic One Condominium was constructed on the oceanfront in Indialantic, Florida the structure seemed to be built around a wheelchair ramp which graces the entire façade of the condominium.  This attractive entrance is an accommodation made by Architect Jim Mayes, Sr. which meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Unless a person is involved in human resources, construction or architecture, he may not realize how much The Americans with Disabilities Act has changed the face of the US. 

            It has been almost two decades since President George H. Bush signed the ADA into law.  Since the ADA was imposed on the business community, the American economy has been greatly affected by this Congressional mandate.

            The disability community applauded the enactment of the law.  Briefly stated, ADA calls for “reasonable accommodations” for persons with disabilities.  This takes on many faces, from public transportation that is accessible for everyone to larger bathrooms in public buildings. 

            Sandra has been wheelchair bound most of her life.  She is young and agile.  Nevertheless she knows that crossing a busy city street without curb cuts in the sidewalks puts her in imminent danger.  Getting that chair over a curb before the green light turns to red is potentially a suicidal act. 

            For Frank, a NASA engineer and stroke victim, maneuvering in a bathroom not covered by ADA means a loss of dignity in more ways than one.  Brett cycles emotionally.  He knows the anguish of trying to hold down a job during the torturous days of instability.  With the enactment of ADA, persons with disabilities began to move more fully into the workforce.   Thus they could become contributing, tax-paying members of society, rather than a continuing drain on the good graces of humanity.

            However, I had not recognized the cost involved in implementing and maintaining the law until a conversation with a local business man about 12 years ago.  Art Evans, Chairman of the Board for Fort Macaulay Development Consultants, helped me see the enormous drain this law could have on business.  Evans reported in a matter-of-fact, unemotional statement, “ADA is the most expensive unfunded mandate ever imposed on the business community.”  I made no attempt to defend the law because it was clear from his lack of emotion that the business community had reached an uneasy alliance with this mimesis impacting their bottom line. 

            Yet, his statement set into motion the investigative part of my brain. How would the business world handle this intrusion?  Over the years I have observed multiple ways industry and business have used innovation and imagination to employ the directives of the ADA to their advantage. 

As our population has become more elderly, the number of disabled residents has mushroomed.  The US Census reports that 17 percent of our population is disabled. The investment of an elevator in a second story building is an important necessity for an aging people.  Wheelchair ramps are no longer considered an unsightly nuisance but ramps are incorporated to enhance the beauty of the building, frequently replacing steps. 

            Picture menus are routinely used in restaurants.  The value meal at the Burger King on US1 in Melbourne–and all of the fast food restaurants–is a direct result of the “reasonable accommodation” for persons who may not be able to read.  People who are mentally challenged (mentally retarded) can see the picture and recognize the numbers.  Restaurants began coupling meals together and putting up pictures so that persons with disabilities could order more easily.  Now all of us find it convenient to order from the picture menus.

            The larger bathrooms required by ADA have become important to everyone, especially the fastidious shopper.  I overheard one young mother say, “I spend too much money at Barnes and Nobles on New Haven.  Though I usually go in just to use the restroom.  Their bathrooms are the best in town.”  Shoppers are no longer required to escort their children to a closet-sized restroom.  Again, the business community took a negative and turned it into an attractive drawing card wooing customers.

            No doubt, ADA is still an expensive law.  Yet, industrious businesses have succeeded in turning a negative into a positive for themselves, the public and their bottom line.